Thursday, 24 August 2017

Ibiza Undead - review

2016 (UK)

Contains mild spoilers. 

If I was to be critical of writer / director Andy Edwards' shameless and rather trashy drunken and debauched Ibiza zombie party, I'd be doing not only him, but you the reader, a disservice. Ibiza Undead is neither high-brow drama, or a pseudo-intellectual exploration of life and death; and it's certainly not high-octane action, or horror, or indulgent romanticism. It's exactly what it claims to be; a cheap, crass, brazen, coming of age party flick that wears it's love of boobs and booze loud and proud. It is, of course, fully aware of what it is and what it's doing. It's as professional as the next, but it's at the party, as well as hosting, inviting the viewer to jump in and share the good times while never trying to judge or preach. That's also not to say Ibiza Undead is perfect either. It has its fair share of issues; but trying an unabashed uncouth The Inbetweeners zombie film isn't one of them.

Setting the film on the Mediterranean number one party island, and focusing on three horny young British chavs on a mission for alcohol and 'pussy', one would hope the viewer would know exactly what they were letting themselves in for. The three are lewd, expletive spewing, penis driven British lads in the best The Inbetweeners way, and just like their hapless cinematic cousins, and probably for the best for all involved, they're just as woefully ill-prepared their pursuit of the opposite sex, what with the charm, maturity and approach of boorish, obnoxious teenagers suffering from Tourette's. They're also delightfully likeable. The instant chemistry the three speak about having off camera, in a short making of documentary, is clearly evident from the first awkward airport scene. Clearly not in an airport departure lounge; Big Jim (Ed Kear) leads Alex and Az (Jordan Coulson and Homer Todiwala) in effortless, effervescent and incredibly puerile and silly banter, and somehow it doesn't really matter. Ibiza Undead is all about the characters; and though there's a lot of them Edwards maintains focus and each has their role as the zombies arrive and trouble begins.

The zombies of Ibiza island are slooooow, and disjointed as if their bodies are aren't entirely connected; and they're being controlled via semaphore, or some distant puppeteer on dial-up. I actually can't recall a zombie quite this comically lethargic or unwieldy, and though the Night of the Living Dead's turn of foot wasn't exactly blistering there wasn't the same un-gamely limb ballet show accompanying their gait. Effort has gone in though, and they are well made-up, uniformly asymmetrical, and compliment the comedy well. In a more serious zombie feature I'd be quite critical, but in Edwards silly little, yet entirely coherent, post zombie outbreak world; with the infection contained and zombies seen more as a myth and not that real or dangerous they work perfectly.

As said, one can't fault Ibiza Undead for all the things it's probably going to be mostly criticised for. If anything it should be applauded for sticking to its guns and keeping up the juvenile humour right to the closing credits. The constant barrage of sexual objectification pejoratives, does get a tad uncomfortable; though it's probably quite accurate, and it's not just limited to the boys with Alex's older sister Liz (Emily Atack), her best friend Zara (Algina Lipskis), and ex Ellie (Cara Theobold) all happy to throw them about. Saying this though it never truly offends, as it's the boys themselves that look weak and silly with each and every barb, with the girls always coming out on top.

Yes it's a film that if we're overly critical about could easily open itself up to accusations of being rather light and lacking in actual substance. It's also definitely a film which uses the story and narrative to set up all the funny little scenes and jokes, rather than the small incidentals acting enrich a grander tale. It also at times utterly fails to hide it's obvious budgetary constraints, with some lacklustre CG and distracting scenery and asides. Yet; and I may take flack for this, none of this really matters. It's a character driven buddy comedy that's authentic to its ideas, well delivered and fashioned with love and care. The making of the film was clearly a party in of itself and this can't help but shine through. Crude, rude and offensive, Ibiza Undead is an antidote to serious and clever, where there's no lesson to be learned or message to be worked out. It's shameless, throwaway fun, and sometimes, that's just what one wants - 6/10.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Rezort - review

2015 (UK / Spain / Belgium)

Contains mild spoilers.

Veteran (in so much he's done it twice before, with Outpost and it's sequel) zombie film director Steve Barker's The Rezort is everything you'd want from a modern, action horror, sublimely crafted walking dead experience. An original set-up, interesting main characters that shock:horror actually show some signs of development; well-paced build up, well maintained tension, with the odd scare; and oodles and oodles of zombie mayhem, carnage and death in both intimate and more grandiose scale. So where's the but I hear you ask? Well, there was a moment a short way after the set-up and outbreak, suddenly watching a slick, contemporary highly stylised zombie narrative turn into a rather generic and formulaic run, shoot, ensign expendable dies, breathe, rinse, repeat trope, that I worried. It was a short lived concern though, and having got the group from a to b to c the things were soon back on point, for a second half, that while maybe doesn't quite live up to the seeds initially sown, nevertheless delivers on its promise, as said, of a well-crafted modern zombie experience. I've noted it didn't review that well; nor that badly, and this is perhaps it's only crime; to be in a genre that's starting to stagnate due to excess.
Jessica De Gouw (Arrow / NBC's Dracula) as shell shocked Melanie Gibbs heads a surprisingly strong cast, of characters that for one reason or another have turned to The Rezort for answers, some seven years after the Chromosyndrome-A pandemic decimated mankind. With two billion dead, loved ones lost and society forever changed, some seek revenge, some seek escape and some like Mel, supported by boyfriend Lewis (Martin McCann) seek closure and catharsis by coming face to face, or more accurately gun to face, with those responsible

One thing I do know though about any and all attempts to control and constrain is best summed up by Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in that other rather more famous theme-park death-experiment. "John, the kind of control you're attempting simply is... it's not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously…" Okay, zombies aren't alive per se, but the same chaos theory still prevails. How The Rezort's CEO and caricature evil capitalist big boss Valerie Wilton (Claire Goose) thought she could make her fortune exploiting an island of undead gut-munchers (un)fortunate to find themselves the only place they weren't quashed, in spectacle and sport, without thinking at some point something might go awry is baffling. I mean, hasn't she watched Jurassic Park, West World, etc...

Dr. Ian Malcolm: "Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and um, screaming."

When the proverbial shit does hit the fan things turn bad with breath-taking speed and ferocity. One second a computer glitch, the next, the operative has had his lungs ripped out and is making a rather more sinister move on the second female operative one seat to the left than usual. It's full on zombie madness, bloody, brutal and a delight to watch. I'd perhaps, with a health and safety hat on, make the point, that for a billion dollar enterprise built on a rather dangerous foundation some additional isolation steps would have been expected, it still sets and steps up the action for the small group left out in the field. One thing Barker does understand is zombie carnage and as expected in 2017, with an entire industry dedicated to making them look and sound good their look and choreography is faultless.

As stated, it's once out in the field the film openly declares itself a bit of a by the numbers, honest to goodness, zombie action one. Mel and the mixed bag of survivors, now under the assumed leadership of the conveniently placed ex-military sharp-shooter Archer (Dougray Scott), they begin their dash from camp to fence to lookout post hoping to escape the island before the rest of the world responds to the alarms and razes it to the ground. 

While action and narrative can be accused of being a tad trite and stale, the same can't be said for the overall vision Barker, with writer Paul Gerstenberger has realised. In the midst of refugees and a world desperate for identity and healing, that a five star resort can pop up, primarily for the rich and bored to play God is quite relevant and cuttingly satirical. Employees inwardly sighing at the sight of rich playboys stroking their automatics and egos with all the danger and effort hidden is clever and I'm sure Romero himself would approve. 

A well-crafted, more than competently executed The Walking Dead zombie narrative that delivers exactly what it promises and I'm not sure what there is to complain about; it's one of those films one should know exactly what they're getting themselves into. Cinematically and musically the Ibiza island vibe is delightfully fresh and stylish, the zombie frolics when they get going deliver the tension, head-shots and bites when needed and the pacing is positive and fresh. Jessica, Martin and Dougray present strong individuals who interact and evolve naturally to the point I would be invested in the idea of a sequel (with those that might have survived.)  A brilliant British zombie feature, with few bells and whistles; but you know what, maybe what with all the zombie comedy satire of late, a faultlessly fashioned back to basics survival thriller is, for us true zombie fans, bloody marvellous - 7/10.


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bride of Re-Animator - review

1989 (USA)

Contains spoilers. 

I've no doubt that in Herbert West's (Jeffrey Combs) mind, he really isn't such a bad guy and all the slap-dash and irresponsible murder, carnage and surgical mischief is justifiable when the goal, to unearth the secrets to life and death, is so monumental. Watching the blood flow, the body parts mount up, and new increasingly nightmarish mutations come to life, one might not fully side with his calamitous unethical scientific methods or agree with his health and safety record, but one really can't help but love him for all the chaos he brings.

Brian Yuzna's Bride of Re-Animator; the sequel to the glorious dark, bloody and riotously inappropriate Re-Animator couldn't really fail. Ok, that's not strictly true but, as with Evil Dead and Bruce Campbell, just casting Coombs as the same irrepressible and eccentric West, and fashioning another slap-stick b-movie with cohesive yet equally eccentric side characters, vulgar and unnecessary bad taste skits and a hokey story to surround him, was sure to work. And despite some small missteps; mainly the result of what Yuzna tells of limited pre-production time, the film is undoubtedly another huge success and a worthy successor.

The film opens with an explosive flashback then flash forward to events eight months after the Miskatonic Hospital massacre that ended the last film in a highly memorable magical b-movie maelstrom of death and chaos. West and his companion cum enabler Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), the only survivors, are following up their unethical experiments, now in the safety of the Peruvian jungle with the front line of civil conflict as cover. There stay is short lived however, but long enough to set the scene and inform us that West has certainly not learnt from his mistakes. Then with another flash and a bang we're all back to Arkham and the place of their earlier misadventures, though by now the hope is that everyone has forgotten the carnage, and moved on...

West carries on his highly questionable experimentation with Dr. Cain fully on board with the promise he can somehow bring his late love Meg back. West's nemesis Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale who begged to be part of this sequel), now a severed head, is reanimated by a rather too curious pathologist (Mel Stewart as Dr. Graves), and begins his singular mission to seek revenge. The story ticks all the b-movie boxes; an increasing implausible and insane story, eccentric characters getting more stressed and desperate, and an abundance of excessive and unnecessary blood, guts and carnage, with Coombs, the meticulous conductor always the centre of the storm. And while one can understand, and almost forgive much of the collateral damage that results from West's fight with the established scientific world, forced as he is to work on the fringe where norms just can't apply, it's harder to argue the case for someone who just wants to tie an arm to a dog or a leg and bring it to life just to see what happens, whatever the consequence. It's these scenes that solidifies West as the larger than life personality and defines Re-Animator as an exceptionally good bad-movie rather than an average to rotten bad-one.

Yuzna isn't one to shy away from a bad taste idea, however disturbing, and in Bride of Re-Animator increasingly bizarre surgical experimentation is free to come to the screen however off the wall the idea. From twitching feet, to bat wings sown to a head, to a finger and eye-ball homage to every great disembodied hand since Thing, watching for each new increasingly unfettered experimental monstrosity is as much a part of the experience as the story. Also for the most part they're all perfectly realised, given the low budget, with enough sinew and blood to cover the cracks; and though not perfect; it's eighties, it's b-movie and cracks are all part of the charm.

I'd be hard pressed to describe West's creations as zombies in any traditional or even contemporary sense. If anything these Frankenstein's meat slabs intimate of life returned; of consciousness, id, ego and will all back alongside breath and a heart-beat. It's b-movie mumbo jumbo of course; of primordial ooze extracted from the amniotic sac of the cuzco iguana and stuff about consciousness not residing in the brain but any of the tissue but the short of it West has found a way of reanimating flesh; the rest doesn't have to make much sense. There is enough ambiguity, and some of West's lesser successes, and remnants from the first film, certainly appear zombie with decay, mindless behaviour with hints of hunger and violence, and towards the end of the film appearing to be controlled by the will of another, all in good old pre-Romero Caribbean style. I'd also be hard pressed to say any of West's returnees are exactly corpus-mentis.

If I was to nit-pick, it could be argued the story is a little disjointed; more a mash-up of sub-narratives and ideas that happen to overlap rather than a grand singular story. It's also under critique rather light on substance with many of the more excessive and memorable scenes rather throwaway and unnecessary from a narrative point of view; included, the b-movie aficionado would argue for the shits and giggles, but for the cynic, perhaps to fill and because gore always sells. Still, they do fit with the insanity and as said they're really just as integral a part of the whole experience as the increasingly incredulous plot. Bride is another riotous Re-Animator chapter allowing both Coombs and the supporting ensemble to shine. With a lively, whimsical sound track and good pacing, it's perfect goofy, excessive and shocking b-movie entertainment, and this new Arrow Blu-ray release; packed with every extra you could hope for, does everything it can to bring it to life - 7/10.